When you are speaking PhotoNOLA, you are speaking Jenn Shaw’s language. Do you have goose bumps up to your armpits because you’re about to go into reviews? Are you hung over to your toenails because someone told you one more Sazerac in the IHH bar won’t hurt? Did you really kiss a photo editor? Welcome to PhotoNOLA!
All kidding aside, Jenn Shaw and her krewe have made PhotoNOLA a stellar photographic festival. It has become such a popular event that registrations for the 2014 Portfolio Review sessions were filled in four minutes. That’s seventy reviewees. Four minutes. I had the pleasure of a brief conversation via text with Jenn just prior to “go” time. She was sweating mardi gras beads because the webmaster had an appointment and assured her that registration would open “automatically” at ten, no need to be concerned.
Early in the interview, she said, “Go easy on me, o.k.?” so this is a light look through the eyes of an artist who lives in New Orleans. In case you don’t know, this artist – in addition to running the whole PhotoNOLA shebang — is married to Cesar Sousa, herds two wild ones, Claudio and Mason, and has taught photography for eight years at the Louise S. McGehee School for Girls.
The attached photographs, except for “Claudio with Bucket and Shovel,” were shot with a Diana-type Camera. Claudio was an early photograph made with a Holga, “before I decided that Dianas were the way to go for this series. In shooting this over the years, I’ve gone through a series of vintage Dianas and clones: Arrow, Raleigh, Windsor, and lately a Tru-View.”
Judy Sherrod: Tell me please, how you went from learning to tie your shoes, to deciding to major in art at RISD.
Jennifer Shaw: I spent my childhood moving back and forth between Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and small town Delaware. It wasn’t easy but I like to think I got the best of both worlds: arts and culture in a small enough to navigate city and the slower pleasures and connection to nature that come with rural life. I was a horse nerd, loved writing and sewing and all things artistic, and couldn’t get enough of snapping pictures on my Kodak Disc camera. Took lots of cheesy “modeling” pictures of my friends, which would no doubt be incredibly embarrassing to run across now. Was given a 35mm Minolta at the age of twelve, and indoctrinated into the darkroom at fifteen. My first job was at a Dunkin Donuts from which I would leave with my tips and go buy records down the street. Got a ‘63 Chevy Biscayne at sixteen which was great for cruising parking lots and trips to the Delaware beaches; in Milwaukee I walked and took the bus. Skipped out of half my classes in junior and senior year to work in the darkroom. Mounted my first solo exhibition at the Milwaukee Public Library when I was seventeen. Had an English teacher who suggested I look in to RISD for college -visited, applied, got accepted.
Judy: What eight people would you like to have at your fantasy dinner party?
Joshua Mann Pailet
Judy: What will you serve them?
Jennifer: A simple but delicious one-dish kind of meal – crab and corn chowder or vegetable lasagna, plus tossed salad and fresh bread. There would be copious amounts of wine, then Windowsill Pies’ Passionfruit Raspberry Tart for dessert.
The Wounded Deer – Frida Kahlo
Purple America – Rick Moody (a novel)
Fantastic Mr. Fox – Wes Anderson (a film/stop-motion animation)
Shivers – Divine Fits (the perfect rock & roll song, originally written by Nick Cave)
Child with a Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park – Diane Arbus
Dans le Port du Havre Frederic Lenfant – Pierre et Gilles
The Garden of Earthly Delights – Hieronymous Bosch
Judy: For the NOLA Newbies – What are your favorite places to eat and drink and play in New Orleans?
Jennifer: I firmly believe The Conti Wax Museum should be everybody’s first stop in New Orleans, for an awesomely dark and twisted primer on Louisiana history. The wax characters were made in the 60’s and include a tableau featuring Napoleon in a bathtub. Need I say more?
I’d recommend Frenchman Street over Bourbon Street. But if you must do Bourbon St., Jean Lafitte’s has old-world charm and is far enough away from the grenade-swilling crowds. Hit the Napoleon House for a Pimm’s Cup and quiet atmosphere, The Chart Room for reasonably priced drinks and great people-watching windows.
I can hardly keep up with the burgeoning restaurant scene, but a few uptown haunts I adore are Lilly’s for Vietnamese, Baie Rouge for casual and delicious French inspired fare, Dick & Jenny’s for cozy fine dining. And I recently had a knock out meal at Pizza Dominica.
Judy: A recent discussion topic concerned why people make art. Do they make art to satisfy an internal need to create, or do they make it to please an audience? How do we reconcile what often seems to be mutually exclusive motivations?
Jennifer: I think the best art – the kind that audiences truly connect to – is the work that the artist needs to create. Viewers respond to truth and when things are made in hopes of winning an audience that internal truth is lacking. I think that old saying about the personal being universal is correct, and when we dig down to something fundamental and raw and honest within ourselves that seed of vulnerability allows others an entry point to sympathize and relate. Which is not to say that everyone needs to spill their guts, but that once you tap into your own authentic voice and communicate about that which moves you, the audience will come. Personally, I am terrified of getting stuck in a mode of needing to work in a certain way to satisfy the market, and think it would be suffocating to be confined by one’s own success. Create to please yourself, first and foremost. And trust that once your passion is translated into the art others will pick up on it.